Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of today. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its soul.
FRANCIS THOMPSON SHELLEY
Children at play can create enormous amounts of fun, enthusiasm, and joy with whatever is at hand. A stick becomes a scepter. A stone, a throne. Two minutes later, the stick is a magic wand and the stone a pet dragon.
Somewhere along the way, we "serious adults" forgot how to play. Recapture that sense of being in the moment with whatever the moment has to offer.
One way is to play with young children--five, six, seven years old. They'll stretch your imagination while rekindling in you the sense of wonder you, too, once had.
You might get yourself some toys you played with--or wanted to play with--as a child: finger paints, Erector sets, crayons, dolls. Take a trip to a toy store and buy yourself whatever seems like fun.
Be your own nurturing parent. Give yourself permission to play.
One of the great joys of life is creativity. Information goes in, gets shuffled about, and comes out in new and interesting ways.
Whatever creative activity you've always wanted to do--do it now. Writing, painting, sculpting, cooking, gardening, sewing, knitting, singing, playing an instrument, composing, dancing, choreographing, designing, photographing, acting, directing, video making--the list is endless.
If I had to define life in a word, it would be: Life is creation.
FROM THE BULLETIN OF NEW YORK ACADEMY OF MEDICINE
It doesn't matter that you don't know how to do it "perfectly." (How many people who make a living at it do?) It doesn't matter how "good" you are. What matters is the creativity. Does it give you joy? Does it give you satisfaction? Is it fun? Does it make you feel more in touch with the creative flow of life? If the answer is yes to any of these, then do it.
Letting creativity flow through you can be therapeutic. "Energy flowing through a system acts to organize that system," as the Whole Earth Catalog reminds us.
Give yourself plenty of creative time and plenty of opportunities to create.
A noble person attracts noble people, and knows how to hold on to them.
If you know people who have a positive direction to their lives--or who are working on one--you may find them rewarding to be around.
Conversely, people who are addicted to their negative thinking--and refuse to recognize it--can be a drag. They feed you negativity and criticize every positive move you make.
I love tranquil solitude And such society As is quiet, wise, and good.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
Negative thinkers are a great challenge. If possible, avoid that challenge.
Fill your life with people who applaud your positive thoughts, feelings, and actions; who encourage you toward more and better; who know how to praise the good and the beautiful.
As I said before, you don't have to spend time with people you don't want to. If you choose to spend time with them, you're entitled to set the rules. "I don't want to discuss negative things." If they don't like it (and they probably won't), they're entitled to go elsewhere and spend time with people who do.
If there are people you feel you must spend time with (usually relatives), (a) try to do it on the phone, and (b) use the time with them to learn something about yourself. Watching how other people negate and sabotage themselves can provide you with a blueprint of how you may be doing it to yourself.
You don't have to get negative about their negativity.
My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die! The child is father of the man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.
The idea that it's better to spend time with uplifting people is also true of books, movies, TV shows, CDs--everything. Not that you have to watch The Sound of Music three times a day--it's just that certain sources of information reinforce the notion that "life is terrible," while other sources of information uphold the idea that "life is wonderful." (Try watching Field of Dreams.)
It's your life. Live it with people who are alive. It tends to be contagious.
Some patients, though conscious that their condition is perilous, recover their health simply through their contentment with the goodness of the physician.
That sounds like an article from Reader's Digest, doesn't it? The fact is, modern medicine routinely does things that would have been considered miraculous only a century ago.
In some cases, far less than a century ago: Before the discovery of stable penicillin in 1941 and its widespread manufacture after World War II, pneumonia killed more people than any other complication. People would have a simple disease or accident, develop pneumonia, and die. Alexander the Great, the most powerful man of his day, died of pneumonia. King Henry VIII, the most powerful man of his day, died of syphilis. Since penicillin, deaths in the Western world from pneumonia have dropped significantly, and syphilis deaths are almost not measurable (according to The World Almanac, 0.0 percent).
Although the remarkably expanded life span of human beings over the past two hundred years is more thanks to plumbing and transportation than medicine (carrying away refuse and adding fresh fruits and vegetables to the daily diet have done more to lengthen the life span than anything else), any number of formerly "incurable" diseases and maladies are now routinely cured.
It's interesting to sit with a group of people and ask, "Would you be alive today if medicine were only as advanced as it was one hundred years ago?" Most people who had had syphilis, pneumonia, any other formerly fatal bacterial disease, a severe accident, or almost any operation--including appendectomy and Caesarean section--would have to say they'd be dead.
Honor a physician with the honor due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him.
The discovery of just the Big Three--anesthesia, antiseptics, and antibiotics--directly accounts for the saving of tens of millions of lives each year.
There are miracles happening every day in medicine. You--or someone you know well--is still alive because of them.
When you think of medicine, don't just think of sterile science, lab coats, and test tubes. Ponder the wonder of medicine, the marvel of how far it has come--and how quickly. Consider the magic of it.
The history of modern medicine is less the story of predictable, plodding advances than it is a chronicle of miracles.
And the miracles continue.
As I mentioned at the start of this book, nothing in this book is designed to replace proper medical treatment. The ideas in this book are designed to augment whatever treatment program you're on.
The man who is tenacious of purpose in a rightful cause is not shaken from his firm resolve by the frenzy of his fellow citizens clamoring for what is wrong, or by the tyrant's threatening countenance.
If you have a life-threatening illness, explore every possibility of treatment, of cure, or--at the very least--of delaying the progress of the disease.
All interest in disease and death is only another expression of interest in life.
Your doctor has hundreds of diseases to learn and keep current on--you have just one. Know it. It is, after all, a visitor. Even an unwelcome visitor you'd probably spend some time getting to know. And the better you know it, the more ways you'll have of getting it to leave.
Ask your doctor about the disease, its treatment, its cure. When you've reached the limits of your doctor's knowledge (or patience), do some research. Read about the disease. Talk to other people who have it--or, better still, who no longer have it.
Become a co-creator of your own cure. Work with your doctor on the best course of treatment for you. Don't be the passive patient, taking pills and paying bills. Become involved.
As any good doctor will tell you, the treatment of many illnesses is as much an art as a science.
Become an artist.
The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
The reason for knowing your disease is so that you can cure it. Keep that always in mind as you do your studying.
No matter how clever, powerful, or tenacious a disease may be (and some of them are remarkable), keep reminding yourself, "I'm smarter than that," "I'm more powerful than that," "I'm more persistent than that."
Because you are.
MARTIANS BUILD TWO IMMENSE CANALS IN TWO YEARS
Vast Engineering Works Accomplished in an Incredibly Short Time by Our Planetary Neighbors .
NEW YORK TIMES FRONT-PAGE HEADLINE
AUGUST 27, 1911
Knowing the disease can not only help you work toward the cure; it can also keep you from getting worse due to fear. Once you know the disease, media accounts that once might have caused you to panic now only produce a smile and a sigh. (Although the temptation will be enormous, don't let your reaction get more negative than a sigh.)
The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news. That statement, of course, is no longer news. And it's not entirely the media's fault--bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news. ("Three Americans Shot by Mad Gunman!" sells papers. "258,829,439 Americans Not Shot by Mad Gunman!" doesn't.)
When your disease is reported in the media, remember that the reporting is apt to (a) focus on the negative, and (b) be superficial enough to appeal to everyone. Because you have a vested interest in knowing about the disease, you may know more about it than the reporter who reported it. (The reporter probably has to cover every other known disease and Space Shuttle launchings, too.)
The media often fall into the "Is the glass half-full or half-empty?" trap. If a disease has a fifty-fifty survivability rate, the media tend to say, "Fifty percent of all people with this disease die," rather than, "Half the people diagnosed with this illness are cured." Same information, different slant.
Sometimes the reporting is so general it blurs the issue. Because the media only report that so-and-so "died of cancer," many people don't know, for example, that cancer is not one always-fatal illness, but a term describing a whole collection of illnesses, the majority of which are now considered curable.
The French army is still the best all-around fighting machine in Europe.
JUNE 12, 1939
Also, diseases in the media tend to follow a trend--they have their day in the spotlight and fade into obscurity. In the early eighties, herpes had its day. Now, although people still get and have herpes, you don't hear much about it. Now AIDS has the spotlight.
The problem with this kind of "fad reporting" is three-fold:
First, it tends to report rumors, speculations, and projections as facts. These tend to be more sensational. How does the media do this? By quoting some "expert." Experts seldom agree, especially at the early stages of studying a disease, and you can always find some expert who will say something hopelessly hopeless about anything.
Second, the most curative work on a disease is achieved after it has fallen out of media favor. When a cure--which usually happens in gradual stages of treatment and prevention--is found, the disease is by then in media exile, and the report of the cure is often relegated to a small article next to the used car ads--if reported at all.
Comet Kohoutek promises to be the celestial extravaganza of the century.
NOVEMBER 5, 1973
Third, if the horrifying projections turn out to be exaggerated, no one bothers to report, "Five years ago we made a big mistake. Hope we didn't frighten you folks too much." (Remember during the herpes scare when experts were predicting that the virus would eventually attack the spinal column and people would die horrible deaths? How many retractions of this misinformation have you read?)
In the media, good news must, alas, also be taken with a grain of salt. If going against the popular grain and reporting the opinion of an overly optimistic "expert" will make a good headline, so be it.
As any reporter will tell you, when writing for the mass media on a complicated subject such as disease, the instructions are, "Generalize, simplify, and don't take up too much space (or time)." "All the news that's fit to print" often becomes "All the news that fits."
Everything you read in the newspaper is absolutely true except for the rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge.
On the brighter side, the scare tactics of the media often make available more time, money, and resources for treatment and cure than might otherwise have been available. I just wish there were a way to do it without instilling all that fear--especially for the people who have to deal with not only the disease and their own fear of the disease, but everyone else's fear as well.
The principles of Washington's farewell address are still sources of wisdom when cures for social ills are sought. The methods of Washington's physicians, however, are no longer studied.
Any time someone tells you that you only have so long to live, how much pain you will go through, or what you'll be able to do between now and your demise--it's a prediction, an opinion based upon a statistical norm. Nothing more.
The Experts Speak (by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, Pantheon Books, New York) is 392 pages of small type featuring noted experts being wrong about almost every major event, discovery, and human endeavor of the past seven thousand years. According to the "experts," all of Beethoven's symphonies were trash, World Wars I and II could not possibly happen, and Gone with the Wind wouldn't make a nickel.
The Experts Speak is must-reading for anyone who must listen to "experts" make predictions about his or her life.
A general sampling. Edison: "The talking picture will not supplant the regular silent motion picture." Aristotle: "Women may be said to be an inferior man." Edison: "The phonograph is not of any commercial value." Business Week, 1968: "With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market for itself." Edison: "The radio craze will soon die out."
Here are a few of the quotes that concern us most directly, from the chapter, "The Annals of Medicine: Man's War Against Disease."
For the majority of people, smoking has a beneficial effect.
DR. IAN G. MACDONALD
(LOS ANGELES SURGEON)
QUOTED IN NEWSWEEK
NOVEMBER 18, 1963
The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is
absurd to go on seeking it. . . . Knife and pain are two words in
surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the
patient. To this compulsory combination we shall have to adjust
--Dr. Alfred Velpeau (French surgeon, professor at the Paris Faculty of Medicine) 1839
The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will be forever shut
from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.
--Sir John Eric Erichsen
(British surgeon, later appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria) 1873
Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous
--Pierre Pachet (Professor of Psychology at Toulouse) 1872
One-half of the children born die before their eighth year.
This is nature's law; why try to contradict
--Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Author of the most widely read child-rearing manual of its day.) 1762
Every man who has sexual relations with two women at the
same time risks syphilis, even if the two women are faithful to
him, for all libertine behavior spontaneously incites this
--Alexandre Weill The Laws and Mysteries of Love 1891
A genuine kiss generates so much heat it destroys
--Dr. S. L. Katzoff (faculty member, San Francisco Institute of Human Relations) 1940
If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production
of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.
--Dr. W. C. Heuper (National Cancer Institute) quoted in The New York Times, April 14, 1954
My doctor is wonderful. Once, in 1955, when I couldn't afford an operation, he touched up the X-rays.
I quote these (and there are many, many more) to show that experts--even doctor experts--are human, and humans make mistakes. There are certain medical facts, but predictions about how long someone will live are just that--predictions, opinions, best guesses.
Unfortunately, when some people are told by a doctor--Authority Figure Extraordinary--"Your disease is incurable; you only have six months to live," they may believe it so faithfully they--with their own thoughts, feelings, and actions--sentence themselves to die within six months.
And they do.
If they had been given years, perhaps they would have lived years; and if the doctor had said, "There's a condition here, and if you work with me, together we can beat this," perhaps they could have--given a fully cooperative patient ready to do "whatever it takes"--beaten it.
Deeming a disease officially "incurable" often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. When people don't allow that to happen and cure themselves, they are usually told, "Ah, we made a mistake in diagnosis."
"How do you know you made a mistake in diagnosis?"
"Because the disease we first diagnosed is incurable, and since you no longer have any signs of it, it must not have been that disease, because that disease is incurable."
Some doctors don't like to admit that they misdiagnosed. They just call the healing a "spontaneous remission" and leave it at that. There's no rhyme or reason to the cure, they claim. It was "spontaneous." Besides, you're not "cured." The disease is just "in remission." It could flare up at any time. You were lucky, nothing more. Go home.
Other doctors, however, ask, "What did you do? How did you do it? Let's see what it was, and maybe it will help others." I loudly applaud this ever-growing group of medical practitioners.
AIDS, for example, is currently thought to be "incurable" and "always fatal" by most experts. The problem is, some people who have had AIDS before AIDS even had a name are still alive. Until everyone who has AIDS dies, I don't understand how it can be called "always fatal."
The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
Also reported as fact by most of the media is that ninety-nine percent of all people who currently test positive for the HIV antibody will die of AIDS complications. (One doesn't die of AIDS; one dies of the complications from opportunistic infections the AIDS-suppressed immune system can't fight off.)
This is devastating information for anyone who's ever taken an "AIDS test" and had a positive result. (There is no "AIDS test." The test is for the antibody to the HIV virus, the virus many experts believe causes AIDS. All the test shows is that the antibody to the virus is in the bloodstream. It does not show the presence of the HIV virus or of the disease AIDS, nor does it mean one will develop AIDS.)
Before taking this ninety-nine percent figure too much to heart (or head, and thinking negatively about it), consider the facts.
I'll go into detail on this as an example of how important it is to look beneath the well-circulated doomsday predictions about any disease so you can find information closer to the truth.
In 1978, at a sexually transmitted disease clinic in San Francisco, blood was taken from thousands of patients and stored as part of a study on hepatitis. When, in 1984, the test for the HIV antibody was discovered, an experiment was begun on 5,000 primarily gay men whose 1978 stored blood showed the presence of the HIV antibody.
We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from God to the medical profession.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
By 1988, forty-eight percent of the people who had the HIV antibody in their blood in 1978 had developed AIDS.
These are tragic figures, but this was all that was known in 1988. Scientific fact stopped here. Expert projection and opinion, journalistic hysteria, and no small amount of homophobia took over.
Some experts looked at the graph and projected the rise of AIDS cases in the future based on what had happened in the past. Based on this assumption, they predicted that, by the year 2000, nearly everyone in the study would have AIDS. Based on this projection, they further projected that ninty-nine percent of all people who are HIV antibody-positive will die of complications arising from AIDS.
This 1988 series of assumptions and projections on projections failed to take into account the following:
This, of course, is not what happened. The diseases ran their course and eventually died out without a "cure" ever being found. It would have been just as reasonable to predict that the same thing would happen to the people in the HIV test group as it was to predict that they were all doomed.
Public opinion is compounded of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy, and newspaper paragraphs.
SIR ROBERT PEEL
From what we now know about the transmission of AIDS, we can see that these people may have had more contributing AIDS factors than thegeneral population--even more than the general population of people who currently test HIV antibody-positive.
Taking these eight factors into account, I don't see how the experts could have made the "ninety-nine percent prediction" for even the remaining members of the test group, much less the entire HIV antibody-positive population. (And why ninty-nine percent? Why not ninty-eight percent? Or one hundred percent? Or 99 percent?)
From the comfortable vantage point of 1995, we can see that the alarmists were wrong once again. The statistics from the San Francisco study--far from getting increasingly grave and horrifying--have gotten no worse. The percentage of people in that study who developed AIDS has stayed virtually the same since 1988, at around forty-eight percent. Did this make the front page of any newspaper? Did an evening television newscast open its broadcast with this wonderful information?
I saw an article about a year ago. The headline read: "AIDS INFECTION RATE LESS THAN ORIGINALLY THOUGHT." The article went on to say that the number of people "infected with AIDS" (as the press likes to misrepresent HIV antibody-positive) in the United States is not 1.5 million, as originally thought, but closer to one million. The article was three paragraphs long. The original scare projections were off by one-third. More than 500,000 fewer people were HIV antibody-positive than theblaring front-page headlines had first proclaimed. Where did I find this corrected information? Page 22, next to an ad for office supplies and FAX machines.
The biggest liar in the world is They Say.
The studies of otherwise healthy people who happen to have HIV antibodies in their systems have been--uniformly and universally--encouraging. In other words, the news about being HIV antibody-positive is positive.
Far from a death sentence, HIV antibody-positive status is yet another of life's wake-up calls. "Watch your diet; do what you love; monitor your attitude; exercise; reduce stress; don't worry, be happy," seems to be its message. Those who heed the message seem to have about the same chances of living a long, full life as almost anyone else.
In late 1994, the World Health Organization reported that only about twenty percent of all HIV antibody-positive people worldwide had developed AIDS. When you consider that most of these people live in underdeveloped countries where life is hard, epidemics are rampant, drinking water is often contaminated, and medical treatment almost nonexistent, the prognosis is, in fact, good for those in a country with wholesome food, uncontaminated water, nutritional supplements, emotional support, access to information (if you dig for it), and two-movies-for-ninety-nine-cents video rental days.
It's been fun--in a Kafkaesque way--to watch the media adapt to the new, more optimistic information: each year they simply change the boilerplate statement in their reports. Currently, "The AIDS virus can remain dormant in the body for as long as fifteen years." Ten years ago it was five years. Next year it will be sixteen years. Why don't they just admit they don't know?
The "HIV-POSITIVE equals AIDS equals DEATH in a few years" falsehood will, I trust, belooked on as one of the most inaccurate--and cruelest--myths of the latter part of the twentieth century.
Before believing what you read, or even what you are told by a professional, you'd do well to find out (a) if the information is fact or projection, (b) where the study was done and under what conditions, and (c) who took part in the study and what's the difference between your life and theirs.
And remember, according to the experts, humans can't fly, the sun goes around the earth, and the Titanic is unsinkable.
Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.
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